News: Frequency management keeps airwaves clear for Network Integration Evaluation
Story by John Hamilton
WHITE SANDS MISSILE RANGE, N.M. - White Sands Missile Range, in support of Network Integration Evaluation 12.1, is keeping the airwaves clear with frequency management throughout the long test taking place here until mid November.
NIE 12.1 is an ongoing test on WSMR that began earlier this month. The NIEs are a series of tests that evaluate emerging technologies and systems that can be connected via a wireless dynamic network also being tested. As a large scale test the NIE requires the collaboration of Army Test and Evaluation Command, which provides WSMR's test facilities and staff; Brigade Modernization Command, who provides soldiers form the 1st Armored division to conduct the test operations; and the Assistant Secretary of Army for Acquisition, Logistics, and Technology, the Systems of System Integration Directorate, the organization responsible for the network and the integration of new systems into that network.
"It's a management construct where collaboration is really the key element that makes this come together between organizations that haven't worked together before, but are getting better at doing it. And that's something that I think we'll see a lot more of in the future," said Maj. Gen. Genaro Dellarocco ATEC's commanding general.
The network, along with many of its components makes extensive use of communications technology and radio frequencies. To make sure that all these different systems can function and not interfere with other tests going on WSMR or civilian communications off range, members of WSMRs Directorate of Information Management have had to take measures to manage the radios systems used.
To ensure that all these radio and other transmissions work together, the members of the radio frequency branch of the WSMR's DOIM have had the job of scheduling and de-conflicting all the different frequency requirement of both the systems undergoing testing and any required support or data collection systems. As the NIE involves everything from man portable radios to aerial relay balloons and satellites, its frequency requirements are enormous compared to more typical test operations. "They are requiring and utilizing spectrum from the low megahertz, all the way up to microwave frequencies… They are probably using nearly all the spectrum resources we have available," said Darren Loken, chief of DOIM's Radio Branch.
To manage all the resources, the installation spectrum manager must evaluate each systems frequency requirements and determine how to best resolve any conflicts. Then the time is scheduled, or the test operation positioned in a geographic location on WSMR that will prevent any conflicts. The complexity of communications and radio systems means that this process can take quite some time for deconflictions and frequency authorizations to be made. To meet Army regulations, the frequency authorizations are expected to take 60 to 120 days, though the actual authorization process can easily take six months or more in some situations.
"Our challenge here, since we have a fast moving dynamic environment, is to balance the time (it takes) to get those authorizations and the time the tester needs those authorizations in," Loken said. In the case of the NIE, nearly 700 different frequency requests had to be made, in coordination with other organizations like the FCC or FAA, in a matter of three to four weeks.
"It's really been a monumental task that's gotten done in a very short period of time for our management office," Loken said.
To accomplish this task the WSMR team, along with their counterpart team at Fort Bliss, had to develop a strong working relationship with the DoD regional coordinator.
And the scale of the test didn't only cause challenges for getting authorizations, WSMR is a big place, and the NIE, while a large test, isn't the only test being conducted. "We have a lot more testing going on with each of those thinking they are just as important and everyone wanting to get their time with the resource," said Bill Bowker an engineering technician with DOIM's Frequency Control.
To deconflict, all the different requirements of all the different test operations the requirements for each were put into a special management system that would compare NIE's requirements with all the other operations. "We took all of the frequencies that NIE will be using while they are here and we bounced that against every other known tester that we have at White Sands, to include Fort Bliss and Holloman. So it amounted to hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of conflicts that we had to go through and deconflict," Bowker said. In the end most conflicts could be mitigated through careful use of different frequencies, placing the various systems far enough away from each other to avoid a conflict, or by scheduling the frequencies to different systems at different times.
Without the management done by WSMR personnel to deconflict these frequencies and spectrums, there is a risk that other systems will be affected. Civilian radio stations, cell phones, test telemetry and data collection, and even radios used for normal communications on the range can be disrupted.
"You couldn't download your favorite app on your iPhone, you wouldn't know where you were going because your GPS wouldn't work, you couldn't watch your favorite Spongebob episode…there's a lot of common ever day applications, things that we take for granted, that would be interrupted," Loken said.
Consequences can be more than just the disruption of service. Under FCC regulation, disruption of certain civilian transmissions, like cellar telephones or television broadcasts, can result in fines or other penalties.
Frequency management can be a new and challenging situation for some members of NIE bringing new systems for evaluation, but for WSMR mangers it's all in a day's work. "A lot of the times a project will come here, this is the first time they've been here…for all the employees here this isn't our first rodeo. We've overcome a lot of the challenges that these customers, NIE included, see as a first time big challenge hurdle," Loken said.
For future testing WSMR is installing a frequency surveillance system. In addition to the existing mobile deconfliction units that WSMR already has, this new surveillance system will allow a single manager in a centralized location to observe all WSMR frequency assets and how they are being utilized. "Those are some of the tools that we have that really make us a good candidate for these kinds of test because NIE is so spectrum intensive.